Saturday, December 24, 2011

The King came like the "least"

Merry Christmas everyone!
I am home for 2 weeks to unpack and re-pack.... then I'll be headed back to Costa Rica for missionary training school and a 4 month outreach. I am so thankful to those people who donated in order that I may come home for Christmas. I am so thankful.

As I sit here in my warm house.... I am shocked by the luxuries even in my own bedroom. There is heating and air, there are no sirens outside, no bombs exploding, no roosters crowing, no people yelling (announcing what they are selling that day), I have the lights turned on without overly-stressing about the power bill, I have more than 5 options of what I'm going to wear today, my clothes are clean and the floors are dry, I know that my mother has food waiting on me upstairs, I know that I have someone to call if I need something, I have the freedom to walk outside alone without fear.... oh, Georgia.

I also can not help but think of the kids that I've been blessed enough to minister to in Guatemala. As they go to bed tonight, they don't have that "Christmas night feeling" that we all know and love. They aren't excited about tomorrow morning, because Santa Clause doesn't visit the trash dump. The only gift with which they can associate tomorrow is the gift the life.... the gift that they received when they discovered that God sent his son to this world to die for them... and shockingly, the King of the world came to this Earth just like these kids did....

From "The Red Letters" by Tom Davis... "You don't have to read very far in the New Testament before running head-on into one of the greatest of these mysteries. I don't know about you, but I (and more than a few Jews in Jesus' time) would have expected the King of the universe to be born in a palace - someplace worthy of his status. He would have slept on no less than four-hundred-thread-count Egyptian cotton crib sheets and rested his head on a down-filled, silk-wrapped pillow. The mobile above his crib would have surely been crafted of sparkling gems - white diamonds, red rubies, blue sapphires, and green emeralds. And all of the most respected people in society would visit this beautifully decorated nursery to worship him.
But that's not how God did things. Jesus was born in a dirty, smelly, disgusting barn. He was laid not on a clean sheet but in a manger - a feeding trough filled with animal snot and drool and their leftover half-eaten food. He wasn't welcomed to the world by great leaders, by rulers and officials and other members of the Lexus-Drivers club. He was met by a bunch of lowly shepherds. Yes, three kings or wise men arrived from the east months later. But nobody even knew who they were.
Are you getting the picture? Jesus didn't come to earth and identify with the rich, the successful and the most influential. He entered the world as a pauper. He entered the world not in the comfort of his parent's home, nor in the the company of smiling relatives or even the safety of a hospital. He arrived in the humblest of places, in the lowliest of circumstances. God hid the mystery of the kingdom in the lives of the most needy.
Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus associated himself with the "least of these"? That when we help them, we're helping Jesus? God has tremendous love for those who are rejected, abandoned, and laughed at...."

(My friend Emily shared this with me).

Here is a sweet video of the kids in the dump celebrating Christmas when someone reached out to them. It's super sweet but in Spanish... you can still enjoy the images!

One of my friends, Joe, who I met while in Guatemala (who also works with the same children in the dump), wrote this about the miracles that happen with the Friday night feeding program in the dump. This same thing literally happens each week:
"We bought 20 turkeys for a special Christmas food distribution at the Guatemala City garbage dump, expecting about 200 people. Before it was over, almost 400 people received a plate of turkey, vegetable salad, fruit, bread, and a drink. The same God that multiplied the loaves and fishes multiplied the turkey and salad tonight. The last piece of turkey and the last serving of salad went on the last plate to the last person. God is good!"

Side note: My goal is to always give the Lord my loafs and BOTH fish so that he can multiple it and use it for HIS glory. I can't imagine how greatly I could limit myself if I only give "one fish". God wants it ALL, both fish! 

Some of the first kids to show up at the feeding on Friday nights. Then people begin to flood in! 

Look at that smile... so much joy from an orange! 

I can't help but remember what Dr.Tom said last week (so thankful that I got to go to my hometown church)... he asked everyone if they remembered what that got for Christmas last year, or the year before that? The point of this question is to challenge you to stop and think about what really matters. Are we spending more time and money on things that won't even matter in a year, or are we spending our time and money on "kingdom purposes"? 

I pray that each of you has a blessed and wonderful Christmas and that you have time to adore the Lord. 

I know that I have been able to count my blessings this Christmas. During the past 8 months, I have worried about all kinds of things.... it's a huge battle that I constantly fight when I think about how easy it would be to return to my job and have my steady income again and that security. But, my faith has grown astronomically in the past few months as I have served as a missionary. I have seen God provide daily in ways that make me stand in amazement. Thank you to each of you who has been the "hands and feet" of Jesus for me as you support me with prayers and donations. You are such a blessing to not only me but the people to whom I serve. 

Grace and Peace! 

*Some people have asked me how to make donations and insisted that I post some details! Even though I will be serving with YWAM, my account is still through "Lakewood Baptist Church". (That way it's tax deductible)! 
To make a donation, make a check out to "Lakewood Baptist Church" and mail it to my parent's address:
2516 Katherine Circle
Gainesville, GA 30506 
*Be sure to include a note saying what the check is for! Thank you! 

Monday, December 12, 2011

December Update!

The past two months have been filled with... well, they sure have been busy! God will guide and provide opportunities to make him known and to love him by loving people if we look! I hate that I haven't been able to blog more... I promise to keep everyone better updated when I'm in Costa Rica with YWAM! I want this ministry to be yours! A lot of the things I've been doing have been little but powerful things... building relationships and friendships with non-believers has been the bulk of that. Just really spending a lot of time being a friend to people who need friends and trying to meet them where they are... just like Christ did for me! Here are a few of the fun things that first come to my mind in the past 2 weeks! Hope you enjoy them also! 

Evangelism Teaching In Saul's Church
One Saturday, from 8-5; I took Carlos and Mark to Pastor Saul’s church to preach about evangelism to the church members. It was great! All of the members learned a TON about evangelism and how to share their faith. We even divided into small teams to go out into the streets and practice in the afternoon. The members of the church learned and lot from this seminar and were so thankful to have the resources to share the good news with their communities. For me, it was great to be around this church body that I love so much.... it was hard to leave afterwards! I was so embarrassed when we first arrived and Saul asked me to stand up and introduce everyone in Spanish. Even though I know the members there, I still get embarrassed when I first begin speaking Spanish to a huge group of people... especially if there are other bilingual people present! 
Funny Stories:
At the lake: Olivia, Saul, and I crossed the lake in a tiny boat (only about 5 meters long) packed with people like sardines in a can that’s a little too small. It was hilarious! I was of course the only non-Guatemalan and of course I wanted to sit in the front where I could see! I was shocked that this front bench was the only unoccupied bench.... I soon found out why! Each trip to a different town on this tiny boat lasted about 45 minutes; the entire time I was splashed with water (to the amusement of everyone on the boat)! After I had gained this attention, I decided to seize the moment and share the gospel with these people.... one of which who shared with me the story of his illegal lifestyle of trafficking narcotics and people for money from Guatemala through Mexico...
One thought that continually crossed my mind in this boat was if I saw Jesus walking on this water in the middle of a terrible storm, would I get out of the boat and walk to him. Would you be willing to get out of the boat, to risk losing your life in order to gain in? 
  I tried to take a sneaky picture of the people on the boat!

Hospital Visit to the City
One Sunday, we received a call from a guy (WIlliam) in rehab in Guatemala city.  Carlos has known William for a few years; ministered to him when he was homeless, clothed and fed him, helped him in every way possible, took him to church, and later took him off of the streets and his lifestyle of drug addiction into a rehab program. William is currently in this program and has been for at least 6 months. William calls Carlos whenever he needs anything; from clothes to help. This Sunday, he called to say that he needed to go to the emergency room. For reasons I still don’t understand, William uses a catheter all of the time and has various problems with his internal organs (I do know that he was shot at one point and that shattered some organs). I have heard a lot about William’s story, but was shocked to find out that he was in his early 20’s (I learned this on the way to the hospital... even though William is not completely sure of his exact age). 
We jumped in the car with Mark and immediately went to help William. We took him to the public hospital which was crazy.... people have to wait outside of the hospital, there is no waiting room. In addition, I think the ambulances are more dangerous than any sickness you could already have.... We took William to this crazy place and watched him enter through a gate to been seen. There are no intercoms, people to tell you what’s going on back in the hospital, no papers to sign, nowhere to check in... They don’t allow people to go in with the patients! So, we waited outside with the 65 other people waiting on their loved ones. Ambulances arrived every minute and a half. We saw a dead man being unloaded form the back of a pick-up truck, a girl with a bullet wound, a girl having a heart attack (who was sitting on the sidewalk outside waiting to be let in by the hospital guard)... all kinds of crazy things! 
With all of these people around thinking about death, what perfect time to share the gospel! We began by doing magic tricks and attracting some attention, then shared about hell, sin, and later the good news. It was awesome! Perhaps that was God’s reason for us to be there. to share Him with these 65 people..... it’s humbling to see how God can change your perspective on situations. What could have been seen as an event that interrupted our Sunday afternoon, and something that required us to wait outside for hours into the night, changed into something beautiful. God loved these people here at the hospital enough to speak to them where they were, no matter where that was! To no glory of our own but to God’s....
-A funny little side note: the guard at the gate was amused by the optical illusion track that I showed him so he allowed Carlos and I to enter the hospital to see William. I guess that was nice of him, but for me it was just an example of how corrupt the system is here... if we like you, you can do whatever you want... that made me worry about what the doctor’s mentality must be inside; hopefully they liked William.... 
I don’t know if it was a favor that we were able to enter! Inside was a WILD house! EVERYONE was in one HUGE room being treated. There were at least 50 patients in there on benches, some on stretchers, some on the floor. Doctors and nurses were treating them in this crazy room.... people were screaming, bleeding, some were naked, some were having surgery right there, one girl died, and most were receiving shots of pain killers and being sent hope with “best wishes” and no answers. 
This is exactly what happened to poor William... he was sent home with no answers and his extreme pain only being suppressed by a 4-hour pain killer. It was almost like a, “good luck, just don’t die here!” God intervened again (and again using a member of his body) when a thought popped in my head, “why not call Layla and see if she has advice”. (Layla is Pastor Saul’s wife who is a doctor and with whom I’ve done a few medical clinics). We called her and she was of great help! She told us another place to take William in the morning that would actually help him. This place was not public and there for not free... between Carlos, me, Mark, and the guy who runs the rehab, we were able to combine our money to pay for the visit and the gas to take him there. Funny how intricate and perfect God’s plan is to the extent that it is impossible to deny that he deserves all of the credit.  
I have loved serving with the ministries to the homeless, drunks, and addicts of Antigua....”the least of these”. As I stand in a circle amidst these men covered in dirt, I truly feel just like one of them. We are all here searching for the same thing, desperate and hungry for the same thing. Some look in drugs, some look in relationships, some look in money or power... everyone is looking. We all have that same desire deep in our heart to experience God here on Earth. At the services we do in the dump in Antigua, we all stand together united; arms lifted up to God in desperation and adoration. These guys know that they are desperate and I often think that their knowledge of their necessity of grace is their greatest blessing. 
Handing out food to them, washing their feet, praying over them, hanging out with them, meeting their’s so humbling and brings me to tears; I think about how Christ (the king of the world) does that for me. And I know that I can only love because I am loved. 
Vacation Bible School
I was excited to have the chance to help with the first vacation bible school at Iglesia del Camino. It was a week-long bilingual VBS and was super successful!
 One of the cutest little VBS kids!
HUGE PRAISE: With the help of a friend who is on the committee for poverty with the United Nations, some super important paper work was passed through the government here in Guatemala to permit Lakewood to build the new preschool that will educate and provide hope for children living in the trash dump! 
Spanish... oh Spanish... I have had really seen God work in some of the people at the Spanish School where I am studying. Since the only thing they ever want to talk to me about is Jesus and Christianity, I have learning a ton of bible Spanish.... haha! So, that's good! 

Some of my favorite things to do here have been hanging out with the street kids who are out selling jewelry or gum to help their families... these kids who walk the streets all day carrying heavy bags to earn a few dollars... they have the coolest stories and are so open to hearing about God. I’ve also loved the opportunities God has literally laid in front of my door here. Opportunities to speak to people from around the world who are here studying Spanish about the amazing man, Jesus, that I know and live for! It’s crazy how many people from so many different countries have never heard of our savior... and who are blown away by the gospel... these people who have no idea what a “christian” is. 
This week Antigua had it’s annual burning of the devil... glad that’s finally over with! (I did not attend this event for obvious reasons but did manage to take a picture of the devil.... can I please just point out that he was "burnt" in between 3 gas stations? At least they put a "no smoking" sign outside). 

A lot has happened while I’ve been here these past 3 months. My grandfather died, my family celebrated another Thanksgiving without me, I’ve worried about money, satan has occasionally put in my mind “what in the world are you doing leaving your job”, I’ve fought a lot of spiritual battles.... but in everything, God’s love and grace has been more than sufficient. There was an emergency and my safety was at risk in the first house I lived in... I had to move out immediately. God came through and gave me a safe house with Sonja & Antonio who have taken care of me like their own. God often answers our prayers through obedience of the “body”. For me, it’s been humbling to see the believers who are willing to be obedient and give no matter what... and sad for me to see those who don’t; ironic how those who have less want to give more. 
I will be home for 2 weeks (can't wait to 'feel' christmas-y') for Christmas before going to Costa Rica for at the very least 6 months as a missionary with YWAM. Then, I will decide where it is and what it is that God wants me to do for him in the mission field! I am excited to be in Gainesville again with people who love and know me. I have missed it dearly but know that I am walking in God's will... which is a feeling that nothing compares with! 
‎"Quite simply, our deep gratitude to Jesus is manifested neither in being chaste, honest, sober, and respectable, nor in churchgoing, Bible-toting, and Psalm-singing, but in our deep and delicate respect for one another. Our gratitude for Jesus is, for the most part, our unsung service to those around us." -Brannan Manning